Ukraine president announces cease-fire plan, but will it take?

Petro Poroshenko said today that the unilateral cease-fire will launch a peace process that includes decentralization of power to the regions.

Mykola Lazarenko/Presidential Press Service/Pool/AP
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (r.) greets attendees of a graduation ceremony at the Ukrainian military academy in Kiev, Ukraine, today. The Ukrainian president on Wednesday announced a plan to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine, promising a unilateral cease-fire after discussions with the Russian and German leaders.

Ukraine’s new President Petro Poroshenko today announced plans for a unilateral cease-fire, but ongoing violence and a new gas war will challenge the prospects for success.

A statement on the presidential website said that Mr. Poroshenko's 14-point plan, which he announced after speaking with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the phone yesterday, is “currently being prepared” with a focus on “the closure of the Ukrainian-Russian state border and amendments to the Constitution that will provide for the decentralization of power.” Poroshenko stated the cease-fire “will be pretty short. We expect that disarmament of military groups and restoration of order will take place right after it.” He reiterated that amnesty would be offered to separatists who lay down arms and “didn’t commit serious crimes.”

Separatists in the east were cool to Poroshenko’s remarks. Denis Pushilin, a leader in Donetsk, called the cease-fire a “useless proposal.” According to The Washington Post, he said, “They will stop firing, we will disarm, and they will capture us unarmed – that’s Kiev’s logic. We don’t think it will be constructive.”

Mr. Pushilin also noted, “We are interested in the occupiers leaving our territory, the occupiers who are now systematically destroying us.”

Speaking in Baku, Azerbaijan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed doubts about the short time frame for the ceasefire.

"If this initiative aims at a comprehensive cease-fire, in which the opposition militia fighting the authorities will be able to exhibit a good will and start negotiations," Mr. Lazrov said, "then I think it could be the step promised by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko” to ease the crisis.

The major question lurking behind Moscow-Kiev relations is just how much control Russia exerts over the separatists in eastern Ukraine – and if it will be able to rein them in and allow a cease-fire to take place. While Russia claims it does not control or speak for the separatists, many in Ukraine and the West believe otherwise.

Poroshenko alluded to Russia's influence among the separatists in a speech today to graduates of the National University of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry. The Kyiv Post reported that Poroshenko said Ukraine is dealing with “a new type of warfare – with the use of professional subversive groups, mercenaries, volunteers, and the local population. And these volunteers and the local population have ‘washed’ brains in a huge part due to the information war.”

Poroshenko’s proposed cease-fire comes amid deadly fighting, most dramatically on Saturday when a Ukrainian military plane was shot down, killing 49 people. The United Nations released a report today on events in Ukraine from May 7 to June 7, which describes the deteriorating situation in the east and continuing problems in Crimea.

“The escalation in criminal activity resulting in human rights abuses is no longer limited to targeting journalists, elected representatives, local politicians, civil servants and civil society activists. Abductions, detentions, acts of ill-treatment and torture, and killings by armed groups are now affecting the broader population of the two eastern regions.”

Since mid-April there have been 356 known deaths in the ongoing crisis, with the majority being civilians. Ukraine is now also dealing with thousands of internally displaced people from the east and Russia-annexed Crimea. 

The cease-fire proposal also comes as Russia and Ukraine joust in a third “gas war.” On Monday, Russia shut of the flow of gas to Ukraine over billions in unpaid bills and a dispute over price. As Fred Weir reports from Moscow for the Monitor:

Moscow has always won its gas battles with Ukraine in the past, largely because Kiev is dependent on Gazprom for about three-quarters of the gas that powers the country 's notoriously inefficient heavy industries and heats its homes in winter. Despite financial backing and moral support from Europe and the US, Ukraine doesn't have a solution that would wean it from the Russian gas tap any time soon.

Poroshenko now faces the unenviable task of trying to construct a cease-fire with multiple factors potentially coming into to play to derail his plans.

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